New Clause 1 — Enabling provision to enable the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to tackle modern day slavery

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Treasury – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 4th November 2014.

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Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 5:45 pm, 4th November 2014

That is a point for the review of the national referral mechanism. The interim report of that review has been issued and the final report will be issued shortly. If my hon. Friend would allow it, we could perhaps discuss this outside the Chamber; I am sure that that would be helpful to both of us.

On overseas domestic workers and new clause 2, I welcome the opportunity to reaffirm the Government’s commitment to protecting individuals who have come to the UK on domestic worker visas. I know that Members feel strongly about this. The Government, and I personally, share their commitment to ensure that no individual in this country is subjected to abuse and exploitation. Holding anyone in modern slavery is totally unacceptable. Overseas domestic workers, like anyone else, deserve protection as well as support and help if abuse takes place. The Bill will give that protection to all victims regardless of who they are, why they are in the UK, for whom they are working or their visa arrangements. We already have a range of measures in place to protect overseas domestic workers and we are intent on strengthening them further.

It is very important that overseas domestic workers know their rights in the UK and where they can seek help. The House will be pleased to know that a pilot is now under way to hand out very simple and easy-to-understand information cards on arrival to the UK, in addition to the information already provided with the visa. I absolutely understand and sympathise with the intention behind new clause 2, but, as I said in Committee, I do not believe it is the solution to those cases where an overseas domestic worker suffers ill treatment in the UK.

I pay tribute to the work of the voluntary sector in supporting domestic workers who have been the subject of abuse or poor working conditions, including that of Kalayaan, which both supports individuals and campaigns on their behalf. One case of abuse is one too many and some of the treatment reported by Kalayaan is absolutely appalling. However, without in any way minimising the distress those individuals have gone through, it is important to remember that those reports are based on a very small number of cases and represent a small proportion of those in the country with an overseas domestic worker visa.

Kalayaan’s figures are based on 120 overseas domestic workers issued with visas after April 2012 who approached it for help over a two-year period. During the same period, more than 30,000 visas were issued. Home Office internal management information suggests that between May 2009 and July 2014, there were 213 confirmed cases of trafficking for domestic servitude involving non-EU nationals. Of these, only 41, or less than 20%, were linked to the overseas domestic worker visa—an average of eight per year.

Focusing on the visa risks obscuring the main issue, which is protecting those at risk of domestic servitude. Our key concern should be that victims understand that they will be believed, that they will receive support and that the perpetrators will be brought to justice. Before the changes in April 2012, the ability to change employer did not prevent instances of abuse and poor treatment, and we have seen no evidence that instances of abuse of those here on overseas domestic worker visas have increased since the right to change employer was removed. Moreover, even while there was a right to change employer, there were still complaints of abuse and poor treatment.

The important point is that we should not be tackling this problem through one, albeit relatively simple, response. We need to look at the underlying problem and tackle it. My right hon. Friend Sir John Randall made an important point when he said that much of this could be tackled and dealt with through policy changes. That is what I am working on.

In the limited time available, I shall deal with the issue of prostitution.